1. Yadier Molina
(C, STL) - While many Fantasy players draft Molina for his steady batting average and predictable production, the most talented of all the Molina brothers keeps rewarding them with more than they could possibly have hoped for. Last season, Molina doubled his Isolated Power (ISO), making the leap from a paltry 0.80 to a passable .160. After Saturday's 4 for 4 effort, which included his fourth home run, Molina's ISO stands at .296, best in the NL among catchers. With his Line Drive rate soaring at 28.3 percent along with a 16.7 percent HR/FB rate that is out of whack, there is obviously some regression ahead for the Cardinals catcher. However, his Contact rate currently sits at 82.9 percent, well below last season's 89.1 percent, which bodes well for continued batting average success as things normalize. Without Albert Pujols
around to steal all the RBI chances, Molina has an opportunity to put up career RBIs batting fifth in the lineup. There is a very good chance that Molina ends up among the top three catchers in several Fantasy categories this season. Consider him a strong buy if a trade opportunity comes your way.
2. Jose Reyes
(SS, MIA) - The Marlins hoped that the addition of Reyes and healthy return of Hanley Ramirez
would boost the team's run production, which generated a meager 3.86 runs per game in 2011. Unfortunately, things haven't worked out that way so far; Reyes is batting just .205 and the team's run production has decreased to just 3.21 runs per game, less than every other team except the Phillies (3.20) and Pirates (2.21). To shake things up, Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen shifted Reyes out of the leadoff spot and into the two-hole. He responded with a RBI single in the seventh inning to end the Marlins 19-inning scoreless streak. Overall, he went 1 for 2 with a pair of walks. Reyes has a history of slow starts, as his career average in April is .273, the second lowest monthly average behind September (.263) and well below his overall career average of .291. He's making solid contact so far, with a Contact rate of 87.4 percent, which is right around his career norm. However, his Groundball rate is 50 percent, coming at the expense of his Flyball rate, which is down to just 29.7 percent. There is an element of bad luck involved, as his BABIP is just .231, well below his career mark of .313. I'm not sure taking him out of the leadoff role will help him much, he's spent the majority of his career in that spot. But once his BABIP starts to normalize, his batting average will recover. Don't expect much power from Reyes. His home run totals have been falling for several years now, and his batted ball profile indicates that he is more of a line drive/ground ball hitter now than ever before.
3. Johnny Cueto
(SP, CIN) - It wasn't the most efficient outing of Cueto's career, as he needed 120 pitches to get through seven innings in which he scattered five hits, walked one and struck out three to defeat the Astros. Cueto's strikeout rate is hovering around 6.7 K/9, a slight improvement over last season's 6.0 K/9, but his walk rate is considerable better at 1.6 BB/9, down from 2.71 BB/9. There is some concern over his loss of about 1.5 mph on his fastball, and his 44.7 percent GB rate is down considerably from last season's career-high 53.7 percent. I believe the velocity is less of a concern, but he needs to generate groundballs to be successful at his home park, the Great American Ballpark, which was second only to Coors Field in HR park factor last year. Cueto struggled with the long ball in his early career, serving them up at rates of 1.5 HR/9 and 1.26 HR/9 in '08 and '09 respectively. He's decreased that rate over the last two seasons, which coincides with increasing GB rates. Therefore, that's the metric to watch in Cueto's future starts. If his GB rate drops any further, the home runs could start to fly. As long as he keeps the GB rate above 45 percent, he should be fine.
4. Brandon Phillips
(2B, CIN) - Phillips had a pair of hits, an RBI and two runs scored Saturday, raising his batting average to .273 for the season. He hit his first triple of the season off Luke Harrell
to drive Joey Votto
home in the first inning. Over his last eight games, Phillips is 10 for 30 (.333) with two home runs, seven RBI, and seven runs scored. He's showing no ill effects from the hamstring injury that caused him to miss three games earlier in the month. However, he has yet to attempt a stolen base this season after being in double-digits in each of the last six seasons. Part of the problem could be that he's been batting fourth in the lineup for the last eight games, but he was batting in the leadoff spot prior to that. If Dusty Baker opts to keep Phillips in the cleanup spot, this could be a thin year for stolen bases from him. Those Fantasy owners that were counting on Phillips for 20 or more stolen bases may have to find them elsewhere.
5. Martin Prado
(3B/OF, ATL) - Prado's numbers are rounding into shape after Saturday's 2 for 4 game against the Pirates raised his batting average to .278. Prado hit his sixth double of the season, which brought his ISO to .169, though; he has just one home run to date. So far, Prado has hit safely in 16 of the 20 games he's played, and he's done a solid job out of the two-hole, scoring 12 runs and driving in another 12. He's making solid contact at 92.4 percent and he rarely swings and misses, as we see in his Swinging Strike rate of just 3.1 percent. Prado is just crushing left-handed pitching this season to the tune of a .379 average so far. It's a bit odd to see him struggling against right-handers (.196), but with his career average against righties at .300, it should be just a matter of time before he evens things out. Overall, look for Prado to continue to raise his average closer to the .300 mark, especially as he sees more right handed pitching. As long as he can stay healthy, an issue with him at times, we should see a typically productive season from Prado.
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